The importance of touch and parenting in a baby’s first year
When I was expecting my first child, I read a few books about the importance of touch. I’d heard the stories of orphaned babies who failed-to-thrive or even died despite having appropriate care and knew that human interaction was important for babies, but I had no idea how important it was! It turns out, the care one receives as an infant can affect one’s entire life. Not that you are doomed if you didn’t get good care, but having poor care really can lead to having more problems as an adult. Sue Gerhardt explains the science behind brain development and explains how experiences in infancy leave an emotional mark. It’s a very interesting book, and it can be a bit overwhelming as you realize just how important your parenting skills are! On the other hand, it also helps you realize that you don’t have to be perfect, but you do have the ability to help your child grow up to be emotionally healthy and more successful navigating through life.
Here are the chapter titles:
Part I–The Foundations: Babies and Their Brains
1. Back to the Beginning
2. Building a Brain
3. Corrosive Cortisone
Part 2–Shaky Foundations and Their Consequences
4. Trying Not to Feel
5. Melancholy Baby
6. Active Harm
8. Original Sin
Part 3–Too Much Information, Not Enough Solutions
9. “If All Else Fails, Hug Your Teddy Bear
10. Birth of the Future
Gerhardt begins by giving us some basic information about how the brain and nervous system work. (Don’t worry; it’s not complicated.) She introduces the theory of attachments–that is, how much a baby trusts his or her caregivers. A baby who has learned that a parent is not reliable will learn that the world is not safe and can carry this detachment into other relationships. Gerhardt also explains that brain neurons need positive experiences to connect and a stressed baby will develop too much cortisol which will hurt the developing brain. (Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases under duress. Too much of it can be harmful for adult bodies as well.) There are many examples of people who received various levels of nurturing as infants and how those experiences affected them throughout their lives. (For example: the baby of a depressed mother is 6 times more likely to be a depressed adult.) This can all seem a bit negative and scary, but of course many of the examples are extreme cases. Fortunately, if you know the information, you can take steps to nurture your baby in a way that will stay with them in a positive manner through their lives. I consider this to be one of the most important parenting books I’ve read because it’s the basis for your baby’s life.
Remember that your infant depends on YOU for everything and that he or she needs your help to feel safe during those early days.
It’s important to be responsive and to watch your baby’s cues. You cannot spoil a baby!
Try to be a positive example with lots of smiles for your baby. If you are struggling, make sure you get help and support.